3 min

Vancouver’s Asian AIDS agency closes

After losing charitable status two years ago

After losing its charitable status and the bulk of its government funding, the Asian Society for the Intervention of AIDS (ASIA) will close officially on March 31, wrapping up 16 years of multilingual HIV/AIDS services.

“ASIA — about three years ago — had some phenomenal, dynamic programs and services that were being provided to the Asian community, and all that’s disappeared now,” says Brian Chittock, executive director of AIDS Vancouver and a former board member of ASIA, most recently in 2007.

ASIA sought to educate Asians about HIV/AIDS through a phone line, educational programs and street outreach. Volunteers have provided services in Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean, Japanese and English. The group has made serving the gay community a priority, and gay community members have served as volunteers and board members.

Chittock says ASIA has effectively closed already. The organization’s phone number no longer works. An email to the board of directors was not returned by deadline.

ASIA lost its charitable status two years ago for failing to file returns with the Canada Revenue Agency. The group last filed a return in March 2007, indicating the federal government contributed $213,000 and the group raised $46,000.

Revenue Canada warned the organization of the impending revocation, but ASIA did not respond, according to a form letter on Revenue Canada’s website. Revenue Canada then revoked the group’s charitable status effective July 2009.

The group then had difficulty getting government funding, Chittock says. It had slowly abandoned its services over the last three years, with some other organizations picking up the slack, but the complete closure of ASIA was a surprise, he says.

“I think we were all in shock that the damage that had been done was to the extent that it was — that the entire agency was having to close down,” Chittock says.

Michael Kwag, who served on ASIA’s board from 2005 to 2008, says ASIA’s problems are particular to the group and don’t reflect a broader issue with AIDS organizations.

But, he adds, “I do think that it’s a reminder of the fragility of some very small community-based organizations like ASIA. It points to the critical role that the executive director has in these organizations, and the smaller they are the more critical that person is.”

Reached on her cellphone, former executive director Suji Moon says she hasn’t worked for ASIA since August. “I’m driving, first of all, and I don’t really know what happened, so I can’t talk about it,” she says.

Moon, the owner and founder of bow wow haus, which sells doggie gear and offers daycare and training for dogs, also says her employment contract prohibits her from speaking on behalf of ASIA.

Asked why she didn’t file financial reports, she says, “I really can’t speak about what happened at ASIA, so I think I just have to let you go.”

Edward Takayanagi, a lawyer at Harrop Phillips Powell & Gray who is listed on the ASIA website as a board member, would neither comment on the closing of ASIA nor indicate the term he served on the board.

Only one ASIA program still receives funding: an outreach worker, whose job includes providing HIV/AIDS information and helping clients obtain social and healthcare services in the Downtown Eastside and Chinatown.

AIDS Vancouver has taken over that program and the $60,000 in provincial funding, which was in jeopardy because the organization wasn’t filing annual reports, Chittock says.

AIDS Vancouver plans to seek government funding to revive ASIA’s other services and wants to run a Celebrity Dim Sum fundraiser in September, Chittock says.

“We thought it would be appropriate for us to try to house what was left of ASIA and then to try to see if we can rebuild at some point in the future,” he says.

Vancouver Centre MP Hedy Fry says it’s important that other organizations are stepping in.

“We well know that for cultural and religious reasons, lots of communities tend to frown on persons who are addicted or persons who are homosexual,” she says. “So there has to be a way of reaching these people.”

ASIA’s website says callers seeking information on sexual health may call Sex Sense at 800-739-7367 or AIDS Vancouver at 604-696-4666. Anyone interested in supplies offered by ASIA’s ORCHID project, which provided free condoms and sexual-health information at massage parlours in the Lower Mainland, may call An Evaluation of Sex Workers’ Health Access (AESHA) at 604-569-3701.